A group of best friends are backing Cancer Research UK’s campaign for World Cancer Day and they are urging everyone to join them by wearing the charity’s Unity Band on February 4.
Wearing the brightly coloured wristbands to show solidarity with people diagnosed with cancer, Linzy Thirlaway, 42, Claire Lisle, 44, and Claire Milburn, 47, are determined to keep the memory of their friend Jenny Thirlaway alive.
Jenny Thirlaway, former Chronicle mum of the year, died in July 2018 aged 46 after being diagnosed with incurable bowel cancer.
Jenny was one of a group of four best friends who she referred to in a blog post as ‘sisters’ and having ‘an enduring loving, strong friendship’.
One of these ‘sisters’ was Linzy Thirlway who has not only lost her best friend but also business partner at Bump, Baby and Beyond, which offers education, advice and support to expectant and new parents in Newcastle and North Tyneside.
Linzy, mum of two who lives in Wallsend, said: “We met more than 20 years ago as midwives at the RVI. Jenny and I became instant best friends. We also became family after she set me up on a date with one of Scott’s cousins, my now husband Ryan. We could not have been closer.”
Their working relationship came to a temporary end when Jenny left her job as a senior midwife to care for her family, including twins Jack and Molly who were born premature at 34 weeks following IVF, and later her husband Scott.
After the twins birth Jack spent time in the special care unit in Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary with breathing problems and then at four days old, Molly was diagnosed with meningitis.
Molly was ventilated in intensive care and had a long and difficult battle to face. She fought the meningitis but has been left with ongoing health problems including cerebral palsy, epilepsy and autism.
Following Molly’s illness Jenny’s husband Scott was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that starts in white blood cells.
Linzy said: “We worked together until Jenny left to care for Scott and Molly. She was going through so much and she wanted to be home to look after everyone, which she always did with everyone she knew. She was so caring.
“After 5 years of being a full-time carer for Molly and Scott, Jenny decided that she wanted to re-join the world of bumps and babies which she loved so much, so she became my co teacher at Bump Baby and Beyond, and also started training as a teaching assistant. It was finally her time to focus on her own life a bit.”
Not long after she joined and life seemed to be going well, Jenny was given the news that she had terminal bowel cancer and had just a year to live.
Linzy said: “She’d been having some stomach pain but nothing that made any of us think this would be the diagnosis. We were all absolutely devastated and just couldn’t believe that life could be so very cruel to one family. Jenny spent her final year celebrating life in only the way Jenny could.
“She created lasting memories for her children, husband, family and friends and lived that year showing the world the most epic bravery and determination. She really was a true legend and we were so very lucky to have her in our lives. We miss her so much, waves of grief can hit you when you least expect it. It might be the smell of her favourite perfume, or a song on the radio. Sometimes just missing such a special person in your life who was always there for you, and always knew the right thing to say.”
Following her diagnosis Jenny started a blog called ‘Elvis may have left the building but Jenny is in no hurry to leave the bloc’.
This brought together her friends and family, but also many people who she didn’t know through her own cancer experience.
Mum of two Claire Isle, from Cramlington, said: “Just like Jenny did, we want everyone to unite and show their support on World Cancer Day and help Cancer Research UK to tackle this devastating disease. Just by wearing a Unity Band we can all make a real difference to people with cancer.
“We miss Jenny so much, but small acts like this can help others and give us a moment to stop and remember our wonderful friend. We came together just before her death for Race for Life and it was so inspirational that even during her own illness, she was raising money to help others and got a group of us together all dressed in pink as Mrs T’s Birds. Always so thoughtful. It’s now great to carry on that support of Cancer Research UK in Jenny’s memory.”
The Unity Band is available in three different colours – pink, navy and blue. It can be worn in memory of a loved one, to celebrate people who’ve overcome cancer or in support of those going through treatment.
By making a donation for a Unity Band, people across the region will be raising money for life-saving research.
World Cancer Day is an international movement, uniting people around the world on 4 February to beat cancer.
Claire Milburn, from Hexham, who also lost her mum to cancer, said: “Supporting a campaign like this helps us to keep Jenny’s memory alive, but it’s not difficult as she made such an impact in our lives and on those further away.
“She was the organiser of the group and would always be telling us when we were going to meet and what we would be doing and it would always be an extravagant fun adventure.
“Although we were all best friends she reached so many other people and she received many messages from people around the world who had read her blog saying how much she had helped them.
“World Cancer Day is a moment to remember Jenny and all of our loved ones who have been affected by cancer. There’s still so much work to be done in research to stop the devastation it causes.”
In the UK, one in two people will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lifetime**.
The good news is, thanks to research, more people are surviving than ever before. Survival has doubled in the last 40 years in the UK and Cancer Research UK’s work has been at the heart of that progress.
But there is still so much more work to do. That’s why this World Cancer Day, the charity is calling on everyone to raise money to help accelerate progress and save more lives.
Lisa Millett, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the North East, said: “We are very grateful to the group for their support and showing how important it is for everyone to wear a Unity Band on World Cancer Day.
“Our research has played a role in developing 8 of the world’s top 10 cancer drugs and we’re working every day to find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease. But we can’t do it alone.
“By making a donation of just £2 for a Unity Band, people will be funding world-class research to help more people survive. Together, we will beat cancer.”
To get a Unity Band and make a donation, visit a Cancer Research UK shop or go online at cruk.org/worldcancerday